Ships have sure changed since I first sailed away with my extended family all those years ago. These days, they can hold every attraction imaginable to keep families happy. From zip lines to "water coasters" and whirlpools that extend out over the sea, you can find it on a cruise ship. I've climbed rock walls, ice-skated and splashed through interactive water parks with family members ages 8 to 80 on board — all things I'd never do on land! I can attest to the fact that cruising tends to bring out the child in you.
If you're thinking of cruising with a large family group, here's a planning tip: Look at ships departing near your home. True, the biggest and fanciest vessels traditionally debut in the Caribbean or Europe, but cruise lines are upgrading the slightly older ships already positioned at major "drive-to" ports around the country, such as Los Angeles.
Speaking of ports, the summer 2012 cruise season will introduce new port expansions and facilities in a number of destinations. That should make traveling with families — especially those with older members not comfortable with waiting in line or climbing lots of stairs — easier.
Theme cruises are big this year. Consider booking a food and wine cruise, with cooking demonstrations from celebrity chefs. Or surprise Mom and Dad with a big band or '50s music-themed cruise. There's even a cruise for horror-movie fans. OK, scary isn't my thing, but it's a sure way to convince my nieces to cruise with me again. In fact, a culinary, '50s music-themed horror-film cruise would please every member of my family. But I doubt it will take that much convincing.
I'll keep you posted with cruise news and trends in upcoming columns. Meantime, here are some sites to help you plan your next cruise.
* American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA): Search for bilingual travel agents in your area who are certified as cruise specialists.
* Cruise Lines In ternational Association (CLIA): Another source for cruise-selling travel specialists in your area.
* U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC): Want to know how your ship scored on its most recent sanitation inspection?
*Cruise line websites: It's a good idea to start your preliminary research on the cruise lines' own websites. Here are a few for your reference: Carnival Cruise Lines; Royal Caribbean; Princess Cruises; Norwegian Cruise Line; Holland America Line. River cruise lines include Avalon Waterways; Viking River Cruises; and Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection.
Also of interest: 6 romantic cruises.